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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel - The Early Daters

(continued from the late daters)

In a sense the early daters case is easier to summarize than the late daters. The early dater claim is simply that Daniel is exactly what it claims to be: a first hand account (some by Daniel, some by Neb. himself) of events during the Babylonian exile and the recording of prophecies that would come true over the next 4 to 5 hundred years (or up to current time and the future depending on how you read things).

Interestingly, even if you consider Daniel to be authentic prophecy you still have the problem of interpreting his visions. Even though they are explained to him by an angel (or Jesus - depending on who you ask) there is still some ambiguity in their application. For instance, if we take the 4th kingdom to be Greece then parts of his prophecy has failed and his prophecies are therefore at least partly failed. So generally, early daters take the Roman Empire to be the fourth kingdom. Also there are some prophecies (for instance in chap 11) that early daters interpret to be about the anti-christ (e.g. v36 and on). Even those who conform to the late dater view that this is about Antiochus IV often claim that he was a forerunner or "type" of anti-christ so this is still a prophecy about the anti-christ. This way of thinking is known as typology: any event can be interpreted as foreshadowing anything similar that happens later.

Whether or not the late daters have a good case one thing is certain, things would be a lot less interesting without the late dater's case around. If there was only an early dater's theory, likely these scholars would spend most of their effort just trying to mine Daniel (along with Revelations) for information about the end times. The late daters theory has spurred a lot of apologetics literature and debate. The apologetics run from the somewhat compelling to the (seemingly) ridiculous.

An example of a claim that at least *sounds* plausible is that the metals of the statues line up as follows:
- gold / Babylon / no one disagrees on this
- silver / Media-Persia / silver was how tributes were paid in Persia
- bronze / Greece / the Greeks apparently were distinctively known for their use of bronze
- iron / Rome / the Romans were among the first to use iron in battle

These are interesting claims, but since I don't have access to the resources they used to defend the above (I'm getting almost all my research of google searches) I just have to take their word for it. It might be true, might be a coincidence, but it is one of the more interesting observations.

Some arguments seem quite silly. I'm a newbie at all this stuff but when they start claiming that Darius the Mede (a character otherwise unknown in history) was really someone named Gubaru or that the verse that names Darius the Mede was actually not translated correctly you have to wonder what's going on. While the case for Gubaru can be made to sound more credible than just arbitrarily saying that person X is really person Y it's certainly not an argument that any skeptic would be convinced by. And if they start admitting that the Bible was mistranslated then that opens a whole other can of worms for those who want to believe in the Bible's inerrancy. In any case even the early daters will admit that the Darius the Mede problem is one of the hardest to address (not that they concede an error, just that it takes more scholarship).

As a general summary I think it's fair to say that every point from the late daters has been addressed by the early daters in some fashion or another. Though I'm not swayed by the early daters arguments, as always I find the apologetics to be of a surprisingly high caliber. (OK, I'm a total amateur, so maybe it *is* bad scholarship, but it's not all *obviously* bad). Perhaps I'm pretty naive, but I really do believe that the scholars on both sides really are trying to get at the truth. The only difference is that the inerrantists have an axiom in their system that the Bible is the actual word of God. The errantists don't have this axiom and end up with different conclusions. Merits of this axiom aside the leading apologists don't ignore any of the Daniel critic's assaults. It's doubtful that anyone but the converted (on both sides) suddenly see the light via these debates and change views very often, but it is still interesting to follow the apologetics and counter-apologetics. For an amateur like myself it's somewhat disconcerting to see how muddied the waters are between the two camps especial coming from the seemingly more certain worlds of physics, math, computer science where my brain spends most of its time.

Next we finally arrive at the reason for this entire journey: the Glenn Miller essay on Daniel.

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